I'm happy to introduce yet another member of my critique group, Kathleen M. Reilly. who recently signed with Marcy Posner of Folio Literary Magangement.
Kate has graciously answered some of my questions about her journey to finding an agent.
But first, a little about Kate. She's one of the most dedicated, focused and hard-working writers that I know.
Kate's features appear in publications such as:
- Better Homes & Gardens
- Family Circle
- American Baby
- Woman's Day
- Ladies' Home Journal
She's also the author of eight books
(two of which are those award-winners).
Prior to launching a successful freelance career, Kate edited telecommunications and veterinary medical newsletters, website copy, and technical documentation.
Kate develops, writes, edits, and designs a wide range of business materials, both in print and online, including brochures, newsletters, press releases, corporate identity pieces, marketing "give-aways," and website copy.
And now, (drum roll please) Kate's interview about how she found her agent:
What type of writing do you do and how long have you been writing?
I’m a freelancer, so most of my work is writing for magazines. I’ve been doing that for about nine years. A few years ago, I started writing non-fiction children’s books for Nomad Press, an indy publisher in Vermont. I’ve done about seven books for them now.
How long had you worked on the manuscript that landed your agent? How many revisions?
when did you seek an agent for the first time, and how/why did you know it was time to look for one?
At the beginning of 2011, I decided it was well past time for me to do what I’ve always wanted – write fiction! So, in January, I began tossing plot ideas around in my head. I started writing in earnest in February. I finished the first draft a couple months later (I write fast!), and I must have done about three major revisions. I started looking for an agent in August. I knew I was ready because I felt like I’d taken the revisions as far as I could go. I was ready for some input from someone who does fiction day in and day out – someone who really knew this side of the business well.
How did you find your agent and then come to the conclusion that she was “the one?”
I did a lot of research to find an agent. I ran searches on different “find an agent!” sites, putting in my key points – I needed someone who did middle grade, who was interested in “boy books,” and who took submissions via email! When this agent responded to my query, she was very polite, professional, and seemed genuinely excited about my manuscript. And when I found out we’d gone to the same university, I figured it was fate!
What encouragement given to you did you hold onto while you were searching for an agent?
As a freelancer, I’m used to rejection. It’s just part of the business. Nothing personal at all – there are so many variables that come into play. Do they already have something similar in the works? D
I can't believe NaNo is going so well for me this year. I have three youngin's and a busy life. I didn't even know if I should tackle NaNo this year; 1) because my past NaNo stories have turned out to be junk 2) I didn't know if I had the time. I hate to start something and not finish it.
But then I decided to do it; 1) because a friend talked me into it 2) I had an idea to write the back story and character sketches of my book instead of the book itself 3) we all can find time to do the things that we WANT to do. I knew I could find the time if I really tried.
I encourage anyone who is thinking about NaNo to do NaNo on in the way that will best suite you and your goals. Who cares if you don't make it to the full 50K? Who cares if you are writing a book about your book? Who cares if you're just brainstorming nothing in particular? The point is setting your goals and working towards them.
Writing a book about back story and characters seems "weird" but it has been really helpful.
1) I'm gaining a better understanding of what motivates my characters and how they effect each other.
2) I'm seeing my characters in a more well-rounded way. They are becoming real to me and I think that will help my story when I start to really write about them.
3) I'm able to connect the dots with some questions I had in my mind but didn't know how to work them out.
4) My inner editor is completely shut off. None of this is meant to be cut and pasted into my novel, so I can type freely with little to no road blocks.
When I do find that my creative process is slowing down, I know it's time to stop. One of the best ways I find to let the words flow is to visualize the scenes or thoughts that I want to write about, like I'm watching a movie in my head, before I start to type. The clearer movie-like picture I have in my head, the easier it is to let the words pour out.
OK, I'm going to go now and try to plunk out another couple thousand words. That is, if I can keep the cat off my key-board. Shooooo Sammy, shoooooo!
What about you? What helps you get the words out when you're writing?
NaNo is a pretty large monster of a word count to tackle. 50,o00 words in one month. I'm not even writing my actual book. I'm writing a book about my book. The back story and character sketches . . . if I get that far.
It helps me to break down those mongo-freaky numbers into smaller parts. Let's see . . .
There's 5 weeks in November. That = 10,000 words per week.
week 1 has 5 days = 2,000 words per day
Week 2-4 has 7 days =1428.57 words per day
Week 5 has 4 days = 2,500 words per day
OK. I think I can manage the daily word averages. All that will take is discipline to make useless time into writing time. (buh-bye facebook games)
This is what I need, though. I need to get back into a regular writing schedule. Dump my brain-numbing down time and make it productive again.
Let's see . . . what other numbers will this month of NaNo Wrimo hold?
at least . . . .
30+ cups of coffee
29 time of scolding myself for checking facebook
26 sticky notes that I misplace
25 late nights
24 more times of scolding myself for checking facebook
22 cups of tea
21 new songs on the i pod
10 crumpled pieces of loose leaf paper
50 times pushing my cat off my keyboard
and a partridge in a pear tree. . . . . (squawking at me for checking facebook)
But it's not really about the numbers . . . is it? It's about setting a goal and reaching it. It's about getting your backside nice and comfy in your seat of choice for the long-haul.
Even if you're not doing NaNo this month, what kind of goals do you have and how do you set yourself up to meet them?
Here's that mysterious word writers hear about all the time. VOICE
It's a crucial element in a manuscript but it's a confusing term. It's hard to wrap our minds around of what "voice" really means. I've found it very helpful to listen to those in the "know" talk about their take on what "voice" is.
Last year about this time I got to hear editor, Martha Mihalik's explaination
This year I got to hear the perspective of a successful author, Rich Wallace
. Rich had some awesome points and gave great examples as well.
If I were to boil down Rich's advice, I'd say thatVOICE = THE CHARACTERS UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE
How do your characters show their unique perspective of the world and their thoughts through the words that you choose?
Here was Rich's advice on developing "Voice":1) Develop a unique eye that makes a scene different.
An example that I can think of from this is Judy Blundell's description of the moon
from "What I Saw and How I Lied" A FAT CUSTARD MOON WAS SPLAT IN THE PURPLE SKY.
I think Judy nailed the "unique scenery description" with that one! 2) Research dialogue in specific regions in order to may your dialogue believable.
He uses author (I don't know if I copied her name correctly, so I will refrain from using it) as an example. This author drives around area's, gets out of her car and simply listens and looks for the local oddities that make the area unique. She'll go into bars and listen to how the locals talk to one another.
One of my personal recent examples would be Ingrid Law, author of SAVVY where just one sentence gives you a sense of the characters speech.
"I had liked it with a mighty kind of liking." Ch 13) Develop and eye for details that make a person unique.
Mr. Wallace used the example of Susan Orlean who developed a unique sense of personal details by traveling with a group of gospel singers.
An example that I can think of is from "The book Without Words" by Avi
Ch 2 "Everything about Mistress Weebly was small: small body; small face; small gimlet eyes; small nose. Her smallness was emphasized by her being dressed in an overlarge, soiled gown of green that reached her ankles - sleeves pinched at her wrists, apron over all, wimple on her head. It was as if she had been dropped into a dirty sack and was spying out from it. Indeed, the womans only largeness was her curiosity."
I just love that one!!! What about you? Do you have any authors in mind that have mastered any of these elements of voice?
My current WIP is a YA fantasy novel. This is the first novel length project that I have taken on and has been quite the learning experience.
When I started writing this piece I took the advice of many authors and writing books and I just sat down and transfered the ideas from my head to the page. That part was fun.
But I'll never forget when I sat down to revise what I had written. Though I still liked the story idea, the writing was horrible! There, before me sat 50,000 ugly, misplaced words waiting for me to give them a makeover. This was the hard part. There was so much to change, I grew very anxious trying to figure out how I was going to take all those words and make them worthy of submission. I was overwhelmed at the thought. I struggled to find a revision routine, but when I did, things really started to fly! I'm now ahead of where I thought I would be and I'm almost done with the second draft of the entire MS. Just 6 more chapters to go!!!!!!! I finished my chapter 22 rewrite last night.
What ended up working for me was that I just took one small section at a time. Sometimes it was just a sentence, sometimes it was an entire paragraph, depending on how much neede to be rewritten.
Once I'm done with the full second draft, I will do a third. Then it will go to my critique group, then to my husband and my parents, then I'll try to find someone to read it who will just say "wow. This is really good." so I can get up the nerve to send it out. :0) Who knows how many drafts it will take to get to that point!? I was happy to read somewhere that Avi does 50-70 rewrites on his work. It looks like an exhausting amount, but I think that will probably be the amount I end up with too.
I'd love to hear how other people tackle their rewrites. How many drafts do you go through? Any suggestions? How do you know when you're ready to send it out?
It's been a little less than a year since I started my first YA novel and I'm nearly done with the 2nd draft. I hope to have the full 2nd draft done by April 18th. This has been a true learning experience. In retrospect, these are the top 10 things that have helped me so far. (This list is in no way a reflection of how I think all novels should be written. Everyone does things differently. This is just a list of things that have been helpful to me.):
Writing the First Novel 1. A rough skeletal book outline. Specific enough to give me direction, but flexible enough to make changes. 2. When writing the first draft, just write. don't worry about grammar, punctuation. Just get the story out. Don't let your creativity be hindered by worrying about anything else than just getting it all on paper 3. It's nice to have a person to give you insights along the way. I have a critique buddy that is very helpful. When I get stuck along the way or need some advice, a writing buddy can help get you unstuck or can be a great source of encouragement. 4. Read. Last year I made it a goal to read a minimum of 4 books a month. When I began this discipline, I noticed a dramatic improvement in my writing skills. 5. When it's time to rewrite after you do #2, (just getting the idea on paper), I have to rewrite in very small segments at a time or else it gets too overwhelming. Only a sentence or one paragraph at a time is usually all I can handle. 6. It's good to have books on hand that are similar to your voice and style to reference when you get stuck. I often refer to several books when I come across a section that I'm not sure how to "fix" (description, dialogue, emotion, etc.) Books I have often referred to on this project are "Crispin and the Cross of Lead" "Goose Girl" "A Wizard of Earthsea" "Princess Academy" "Bitterwood" "The Merlin Trilogy by Jane Yolen" and "The Princess Bride" 7. If one section has you stumped, it's OK to skip it for a while and work on the next section or chapter. Sometimes it helps to just come back to it later. 8. However, sometimes if you're stuck, you just may need to sit down and force yourself to write. Sometimes getting yourself unstuck doesn't turn out to be as difficult as you thought it would be. Don't be afraid to just tackle it. There's been a couple times that I've avoided rewriting a certain section, because the task seemed so daunting, but then when I finally did it it ended up not being as hard as I thought it would be. 9. Don't feel like you have to rewrite everything perfectly the first time. It's OK to do multiple rewrites. don't feel like you have to get it perfect right away. 10. Attend conferences or retreats, make contacts and have your work critiqued professionally or get involved in a group. The opinions of others are crucial. They represent your readers, so listen to what they have to say.
Friday Evening with Martha MihalikWhat is Voice and Why do Editors Go Ga-Ga over it?
My notes and my take on Martha's session on VOICE.
From conferences to the very mouth of an editor, "VOICE" is the buzz word. In writing circles everywhere they talk about how important "VOICE" is. But I've never been clear entirely what it means, until Martha Mihalik's session on voice. Good voice is something you notice when you read it, but when you are the writer, how do you know that you have it?
Martha broke down "Voice" as having eight elements. Though each element is distinct, it's important that they all work together and consistently support one another.
The Short version: Voice is the "Story teller"
ELEMENTS OF VOICE:
1) Language = the vocabulary and dialect of your characters and narrator
2) Syntax and rhythm = how you put together sentences and paragraphs. How do you form them and how do they vary?
3) Tone = How do your characters sound? Are they cheerful, sarcastic, hopeful, dark. . . .
4) Imagery and symbolism
5) Theme = the emotional underlying emotional drive of the story.
6) World View = Where does the story take place? How would the characters think? what would they see? what is their culture? How does the world of the character effect his/her thinking and views.
7) Pacing = Leisurely or fast?
8) Structure = how it's put together, are the characters complex or simple?
So . . . why is voice so important? What's the big deal?
The answer is simple. There are only a handful of different plots that can be told. The "voice" is what makes the telling of the same ol' plots unique and interesting. It's what draws the reader in gives the story vitality and an air of authenticity.
Martha's Advice: Don't write to follow a trend. Write from your heart. If you force your story, the voice will come across as being "fake" or not authentic and will also seem as if the author doesn't have and opinion of the story.
A few of Martha's examples of books with good voice:
Stardust by Neil Gaiman
The Secret Life of Sparrow Delaney by Suzanne Harper
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
A few of my examples of books with good voice:
Crispin and the Cross of Lead; Midnight Magic by Avi
Dovey Coe, By Frances O'Roark Dowell
The Very Ordered Existence of Merilee Marvelous, by Suzanne Crowley
Tomorrow I will focus on Krista Marino's topic of Point of View and how it can help or hurt your story.
The contest in the post
below has not ended yet, however, I think it's safe to assume that I ain't gonna win. Though I didn't expect to win the contest, I did expect my opening to fare much better. Instead, the majority ruled "No, didn't hook me."
Why did I expect better? this opening has been through the wringer. In the past year my prologue and chapter 1 have been critiqued by 2 editors (Caitlyn Dloughy S&S & Krista Marino, Delecorte
) as well as my critique group (all who are very honest). Both editors invited me to submit the story once it's finished.
The editors were both encouraging and though they had plenty of constructive advice. The opening wasn't a concern for them. The same goes for my critique group and the others who have read my MS thus far.
So, I had to ask myself "What's the difference? Why has my opening made it this far unscathed only now to be rejected by the majority?
At first I wanted to just make excuses. But what good would that do? the people have spoken and these people represent the readers: the ones who buy the books or pick them up at the library. These are the voices inside the head of our editors and agents.So. NO EXCUSES.
What can I learn from this experience?Here's what I've learned so far . . . .
This contest was like a simulated slush pile. If we want to get a small taste of what an editor thinks when they have a stack of manuscripts on their desk, then just go over to the contest submissions and read each one. There's 114 by the way.
By time you get to submission #10, or sooner, you stop reading the whole thing. UNLESS
. . . you really like it. There's a ton of stuff to weed through and you're not going to want to read it all. If it doesn't hook you right away, chances are, you're going to give up on it pretty quick. Editors and Agents don't have all day. If we don't hook them right away, lets face it. We aren't going to hook them at all because they aren't going to read any further.
I figure that I received positive feedback in the past because my MS was critiqued at a conference and a writing retreat. The editors were expected and paid to read all of what I submitted. But the reality is . . . had that MS landed on their desk with the stack of other manilla envelopes, had I just been another stack of paper in the pile, they may have very well passed it over because the opening didnt' hook them. My opening is fine when read in the context of the entire chapter, but the first 250 words by themselves . . . needs to be better.
You may have something that they very well could like. But if it doesn't grab'em right away, it may still be passed over.
For me, this is very eye opening. Why share my defeat? Why not delete the post below, pretend I didn't enter and try to hide my shame? Because this is apart of my journey as a writer. I want to improve and a writer needs to learn how to write for their audience. not just ourselves, not just the editors and agents.
Although the negative feed back stings a bit, it is also necessary for improvement
. So I thank all who offered their opinions
. I'm also thankful for those who had kind words to say, those words were balm to my wounded pride. ;0)
I do suggest that all who aspire for publication to submit to this type of contest. It's good for thickening the skin and it's also another good form of honest feedback. Things we all need if we're going to be published. I'm glad I entered and I learned a lot.
back to work on draft 4 (then 5, 6, 7 . . . heck! who knows how many it will be!) But I'm diving in!!!!! :0)
I freely and readily admit to my techno-ignorance. This time last year I didn't know what blogging was, really. And then came the call to arms. Would any of the members of the Scattered Authors Society be interested in taking part in a blogging venture? No pressure--it would just be once a month or so in a rota system. We'd be talking about the business of writing and associated matters. I said yes at once. It sounded interesting. And besides, the blogmeister extraordinaire would be dealing with all the complex technical stuff. So here we all are, not far off 200 posts later, with a fantastic array of blogs on a myriad disparate subjects allied to writing behind us. Someone described it to me the other day as a mini literary magazine, and so it seems. I am always interested to read what my fellow authors come up with, and they often inspire me with their words and thoughts. But once I got caught by the blogging bug, somehow once a month wasn't enough.
So it was that earlier this January I embarked on my own blogging venture at Scribble City Central
. Much has been written here about the perils of procrastination for writers, and perhaps you might think that blogging is yet another one of these pernicious lures and excuses. For me it appears not. I am using it as a writing discipline, an exercise in putting my mind into the right kind of space for 'proper work'. I have made a bargain with myself that I will blog on every planned writing day, first thing. So far it has worked a treat. In the days since I started the blog, I have been more creative and productive than ever before. Somehow the act of typing words onto paper--some words, any words on any subject that happens to have popped into my head at that moment--is very liberating. More importantly it seems to 'turn the mind tap on' quite effectively for me. I hope that some of you will care to join me over at the Other Place, on the principle that 'If You Liked This Then You Will Like That'. I've already blogged about such diverse things as marmalade, muse-wrestling, Obama, seeds and comfort reading. The more readers I have, the more I will be encouraged to blog--and (hopefully) the happier my agent and editor will be at my increased output in the 'real' writing job, currently two increasingly complicated children's novels. Procrastination? What's that? A sin of the past, I trust.
Today's blog is brought to you by, STRUCTURES THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN GIVEN MORE THOUGHT
I've been thinking about trying a creative writing exercise. You know how artists will take an object like a coffee cup and draw that same object from different angles every day for a specified number of days?
Well, I was wondering if maybe I could benefit from a similar exercise as a writer. Maybe I should pick an object that I see everyday, like a tree or a building etc. and try to think of 100 different ways to describe that one object.
Has anyone ever tried that before? Anyone want to try it with me?
Now .. . . what object should I pick? hmmmmm . . . .